New way to clear radio daze

Radio ad campaigns are known to be tricky to evaluate. Indeed, some people say that one of the best ways for local advertisers to measure the success of their radio campaigns is to look at their cashflow.

If there is no noticeable difference in the tills, the radio campaign should be dropped or changed.

While local advertisers find radio campaigns tough to evaluate, the difficulties increase at national level. This is partly because radio has historically played only a very minor part in the marketing mix, although this seems to be changing – radio’s share of the cake has more than doubled in the past five years, growing from two per cent to five per cent of revenue.

But the bigger problem, radio’s supporters argue, is that the noise from the other 95 per cent of advertising tends to get in the way. Jonathan Chapman, a director of Clark Chapman Research, observes: “Every researcher knows that radio advertising awareness has unbelievably low recall figures. This is possibly because the research method doesn’t take account of the way people consume radio.”

Radio, like posters, is almost subliminal in the way it operates. Most listeners are doing something else – driving, eating, their daily chores – with their attention levels increasing and decreasing during the flow of music, news, ads and weather.

In addition, radio isn’t perceived as the natural home of brand advertising – as researchers usually discover, when consumers are asked about brand advertising, they always think of television before radio.

In an attempt to establish the best way of measuring people’s exposure to radio advertising and the effect it might have, the Radio Advertising Bureau recently commissioned Clark Chapman Research to carry out a live test of different methodologies.

The company surveyed consumer recall and response to six different campaigns which were running on Capital Radio. The test brands involved were Feminax, TV Licensing, Prudential, P&O Stena, Silentnight Beds and Channel 5, but all the figures are averaged across the six.

To offset the possible effect of misattribution, the researchers used a split sample of listeners and non-listeners.

Spontaneous awareness scores showed that, on average, six per cent of the Capital listeners remembered that the test brand had advertised on radio. The level of noise in the numbers here is clear, from the fact that four per cent of non-listeners answered the same way.

Prompting with test brand names on a showcard helped this figure rise to 13 per cent, and it rose again to 19 per cent when listeners were prompted with the medium as well, for example: “Which, if any, of these have you heard advertised on radio recently?”

Chapman says: “This is about as far as many surveys go and, to be fair, 19 per cent is a reasonable level to see significant shifts.” But the researchers took their survey two stages further.

The interviewers read out a description of the ad, for example, “This ad is in the form of a lighthearted drama where a couple are being told at the check-in desk at the airport that they simply cannot bring their bed with them into the aeroplane”, and asked the respondents whether they had heard it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, scores varied widely on this method, leading to the conclusion that some ads are easier to describe than others.

The fourth stage was commercial recognition – the researchers literally played the advertisements to the respondents and asked whether they had heard them. As the chart below shows, this revealed that, on average, 63 per cent of the listeners could confirm they had heard the campaign – this figure excludes an additional nine per cent who said “maybe”.

So different research methods prompted 63 per cent recognition compared with six per cent – a huge leap.

Clearly, memories of radio advertising are very sensitive to prompting. So what does this mean for the way radio advertising research is conducted?

Chapman says: “We don’t really have a right and wrong method here – we have different results when we use different techniques.”

If marketers want to know how likely listeners are to think their brands are radio advertisers, then spontaneous awareness scores will tell them this. The Carphone Warehouse tends to score well on this – the brand has achieved an explicit association with the medium.

Describing radio campaigns to listeners seems to be an unreliable method – and it is actually measuring how easy it is to describe an ad, rather than whether anyone has heard it, so it is not particularly useful.

Commercial recognition is clearly the most efficient method in terms of finding out whether people have heard a particular campaign. This is valuable, because one can look at the correlation between this and brand knowledge or attitudes.

Meanwhile, it seems that the method normally used – the prompting by brand and medium – may make sense in terms of economics (it can be added to a TV tracking study), but will inevitably under-report true levels of radio advertising memories. On this basis it should certainly be questioned.

The Radio Advertising Bureau will post a fuller summary of this study at its Website RAB online which is at www.rab.co.uk

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